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Dr Bradford Backus
UCL Ear Institute
332 Gray's Inn Rd
Tel: 020 7679 8949
Fax: 020 7679 8990
  • Honorary Senior Research Associate
  • The Ear Institute
  • Faculty of Brain Sciences

When you ask people whether they would rather lose their sight or their hearing 70% of people say, “I’d rather lose my hearing” but it’s not mainly sight that binds us together as social animals, it is speech and hearing. Looking back, most of my life has been focused on sound: first as an amateur musician and composer and choreographer, then as an engineer at Bose Corp, next during my graduate work at MIT, and now as a researcher at The Ear Institute. Still, it wasn’t until recently that I understood the importance of hearing in our lives— it is central to us as social animals, but it goes beyond that. For example, music drastically affects our emotions. So that type of sound is acting on very ancient parts of the brain.

It is rewarding to know that the work I do will eventually help people prevent or overcome their hearing problems.

Research Summary
Since their discovery by Rasmussen in 1946, it has been known that there are descending inputs to the mammalian ear called olivocochlear fibers. The fact that information is sent from the brain to the ear may be counter-intuitive for some because we generally think of the ear as a pure sensor for sending neural information, not receiving it.

We have learned a great deal about what these efferent inputs do to control how the ear changes its response to sound. For example, one type of descending influence can be thought of as an automatic gain control circuit for the ear. This circuit reduces basilar membrane motion in response to sound when activated. Although we know a lot about the peripheral effects of activating these circuits, the key roles they play in hearing are still in question. My research revolves around measuring these peripheral effects in humans using Otoacoustic emissions (sounds emitted by the ear) in an effort to understand what possible roles they do have. My research interacts with:
  • Tinnitus
  • Noise-induced hearing loss
  • Genetics of hearing
  • Speech intelligibility in background noise
  • Hearing screening
  • Musically-trained ears
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